A New Jersey judge has ruled that the widow of a Trenton police officer, who committed suicide after being identified as having sex with a prostitute, cannot sue a local newspaper or the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office for defamation, emotional distress and other claims.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge R. Brian McLaughlin dismissed the lawsuit against The Trentonian newspaper, the prosecutor’s office and the city of Trenton on summary judgment in a ruling issued June 28.
Officer Edward Leopardi killed himself on Sept. 21, 2016, hours after Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri held a press conference regarding an investigation into a sex scandal involving the Trenton Police Department, and after the Trentonian published an article about the investigation.
Neither Onofri nor the Trentonian named Leopardi as one of the targets of the investigation. The Trentonian did identify Leopardi after he killed himself.
Leopardi shot himself with his own weapon, according to the ruling.
The lawsuit was filed by Leopardi’s widow, Rene Pistilli-Leopardi.
“Under New Jersey law, a statement is defamatory if it is false, communicated to a third person, and tends to lower the subject’s reputation in the estimation of the community,” McLaughlin said.
In this case, however, there was no evidence that any of the information published was false, the judge said.
Leopardi killed himself amid an internal affairs and prosecutor’s office investigation involving officers having sex with a prostitute while on duty in the department’s K9 training facility.
“Presently unknown agents, officers, or employees of the city of Trenton Police Department improperly released details of an ongoing internal affairs investigation of Ed Leopardi to the press,” the tort claim notice read. “The release of this information was illegal and contrary to law and the attorney general guidelines governing internal affairs investigations.”
The notice specifically cited a Trentonian article, saying that it contained false information.
“Immediately upon learning of the article’s publications, Mr. Leopardi committed suicide at his home,” it said.
Pistelli-Leopardi has been seeking unspecified damages for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, defamation and wrongful death.
Leopardi was a committeeman in Franklin Township in Gloucester County at the time of his death.
The veteran K9 officer also served for many years as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Hamilton and was a Little League baseball coach and umpire.
Pistilli-Leopardi’s lawyer, Frank Guaracini III, said he intends to file an amended complaint based on newly learned facts, although he declined to comment further.
Guaracini is with Blaney & Karavan in Avalon.
The Trentonian’s attorney, Eli Segal, of the Philadelphia office of Pepper Hamilton, declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the county prosecutor’s office, declined to comment.